Never Mind Mariel, Here's The Eat

Old-schoolers know that The Eat were the original Miami punks

On September 21, 1996, I turned nineteen years old. The night was hot and muggy. The streets of Little Haiti still glowed from the light afternoon rain, and Churchill's Pub was in full swing, packed with all kinds of people armed with alcoholic drinks. In those days, one could hang out in Churchill's parking lot, acting out some sort of semi-defiance to the world. Bands would play, but between the crackheads and the cops making their usual rounds through the neighborhood, the rest of the world wouldn't notice the racket.

But that night was different. On my birthday (a cosmic coincidence, I'm sure), God delivered me The Eat. It was their first "official" reunion show in fourteen years, and the quartet delivered a little over an hour's worth of material with the same endearingly impudent sneer that recently led onetime leader of the Dead Kennedys and free speech activist Jello Biafra to negotiate the rerelease of their catalogue on his Alternative Tentacles label.

During almost five years as a working band in South Florida, The Eat managed to connect with fans from Homestead to the Palm Beaches. Their infectious rock and roll served as a bridge between the glamorous end of the Seventies and the lawless seediness of Eighties Miami. I have never seen as many people pack Churchill's Pub since.

The Eat, a little older, a little wiser: Eddie  O'Brien (left), Ken Lindahl, Glenn Newland, and Mike O'Brien
Jonathan Postal
The Eat, a little older, a little wiser: Eddie O'Brien (left), Ken Lindahl, Glenn Newland, and Mike O'Brien

Formed in 1978 by brothers Eddie and Michael O'Brien, Glenn Newland, and Christopher Cottie, The Eat rapidly became a distinct member of a relatively small group of South Florida punk rock acts that also included the Cichlids. The same thing was happening all around the country; young kids everywhere were rejecting the disco and track music stagnation of Seventies radio.

Armed with deceptively simple songs, The Eat gigged on a small circuit of clubs throughout South Florida -- The Agora Ballroom, Flynn's, The Premier AOR, Balkan Lounge, and 27 Birds, just to name a few. "In the early Seventies, doing original material in clubs was out of the question," says Eddie O'Brien. "Maybe you could slip in one per set, but the clubs sometimes even told you what covers you could play. The Cichlids were the first popular band I remember doing originals ... and they kicked the door open for us, [Charlie] Pickett, The Reactions, and the others."

Utilizing what little money they had made from their concerts, the band quickly put together a seven-inch single in 1979, the legendary "Communist Radio" backed with "Catholic Love," on their own label, Giggling Hitler Records. Chronologically, it was the second punk record issued out of Miami (the first being Critical Mass's single "Silver Screen," which was released in 1978). It treated listeners to what Pickett describes as Eddie's "black Irish humor."

"I remember sitting with [local bassist and soon-to-be Eat member Kenny Lindahl] with our mouths open, thinking, How could anyone be so smart and so normal at the same time?" says local guitar legend Pickett. "The Eat were the most intellectual, most eclectic, and at the same time easiest to love band; you didn't have to put on your Captain Beefheart hat to understand them."

The Eat's sound was reminiscent of Fifties rock and roll dipped in an amphetamine bath. The O'Brien brothers' driving guitars flanked an incredibly tight and powerful rhythm section. Eddie's guitar work twanged vestigial, his rockabilly/country/psych influences tug-o-warring with younger Michael's metallic punk licks. Newland's bass acted as a clarifying metronome to the sonic sibling rivalry, while Cottie generated a booming, steady beat that grounded the rock and roll monster. Even in the lo-fi quality of the "Communist Radio" single, Eddie's delivery of a line like "I learned my Latin up in Manhattan/And I've brought it down South to you" is bound to make you hum.

The five-song EP, God Punishes The Eat, was released in 1980. Allegedly the band recorded it during days 98 through 123 of the Iranian hostage crisis on a four-track recorder in Eddie's basement. Its cover illustration -- Miami's downtown skyline being demolished by lightning and brimstone -- is a classic punk rock image.

God Punishes The Eat's subject matter was a reflection of the times: the Mariel boatlift, corrupt cops, and drugs. "Nut Cop" best displays their never-ending struggle between debauchery and a Catholic upbringing: "I'm gonna tell ya what the jury said/Ten Hail Marys and I'll see you on Tuesday/One for your mother, one for the Pope/Eight for policemen selling you dope."

According to a February 29, 1996 article by former New Times music editor John Floyd, God Punishes The Eat was also a response to the negative press the proto-punks had received. "All the music critics hated us," said Michael in the story. "There were all these articles in the Herald and the Miami News about how rotten and miserable and disrespectful we were. But we weren't like that at all. We were nice guys who just decided to be punks and play with the volume up to 10."

Newland recalls Cottie working at the Easy Quik store in Coconut Grove. "This in the day when Bayshore Studios was going full tilt," he remembers. "The rock stars would go to the store to get cigarettes and pretzels. Chris would not ring them up until he badgered them into buying a record. Half the Eagles purchased one."

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